January 24, 2005 -- Three hero firefighters perished in blazes in The Bronx and Brooklyn yesterday - including two who were forced to choose between jumping for their lives or burning to death after giving up their hose to colleagues on the floor below.
As flames closed in, Lt. Curtis Meyran and firefighter John Bellew - who had a total of seven children - made the desperate decision to leap 50 feet from the fourth floor of a burning building at 236 E. 178th St. in the Morris Heights section of The Bronx.
Meyran, 46, a 15-year FDNY veteran, and Bellew, 37, a 10-year veteran died, and four others who also jumped were badly injured.
The Post learned they were ordered to give their hose to firefighters battling the main blaze on the third floor after an erroneous report that their hose burst.
Three hours after the tragedy, Brooklyn firefighter Richard Sclafani, 37, of Ladder Co. 103, died after getting trapped in the basement while fighting a blaze in an East New York home.
Excluding 9/11, it was the blackest day for the FDNY since three firefighters died battling a five-alarm Father's Day blaze at an Astoria hardware store June 17, 2001.
And it was a cruel first for the department.
"We all have between 30 and 40 years' experience in this job and none of us can remember a day when we had fire fatalities at two separate incidents," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
Mayor Bloomberg said, "No words can comfort the families who have lost these brave and courageous fathers and husbands.
"But I can tell you this city will not forget these brave men."
And Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said, "Today is an extremely sad day in the history of the department. Our hearts go out to the families of the firefighters who lost their lives."
The Bronx fire broke out at 7:59 a.m. after sparks from an overloaded electrical socket set a mattress ablaze in a rear third-floor apartment.
The fire quickly went to three alarms in the 17-degree cold.
As firefighters battled the third-floor flames with one hose, a backup team with a separate hose went to the fourth floor to check reports of people trapped there.
Meyran, a father of three assigned to Battalion 26, led the way upstairs.
As the firefighters were searching for possible victims, there was a report that part of the third-floor hose had burst, and the men on the fourth floor were ordered to give their hose to the firefighters on the floor below, FDNY sources said.
Just after ill-fated men gave up their hose, tragedy struck. The fire burned through the third-floor ceiling, trapping the six men who remained on the fourth.
They couldn't get to a window where there was a fire escape because it was blocked by partitions used to add more bedrooms to the apartment.
So they had to make a terrible choice: jump or die immediately.
"When the fire from the third floor broke through to the fourth, they were faced with the horrifying choice of either jumping from the fourth-floor window or being burned to death," Bloomberg said.
"They jumped knowing they would be critically injured."
One firefighter tied his personal rope to a window and began to slide down, but the rope broke.
Meyran, who had been decorated twice for bravery, died shortly after 9 a.m.
Bellew, a father of four assigned to Ladder Co. 27, died at about 1 p.m.
"He fought hard to live but his injuries were too severe to be overcome," the mayor said.
Three of the injured firefighters were rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital. Eugene Stolowski of Ladder 27 was in critical condition; Jeffrey Cool of Rescue 3 was in critical but stable condition; and Brendan Cawley of Ladder 27 was in serious condition.